The 1619 Project

Should CVUSD Use the 1619 Project as Curriculum?

The 1619 Project is not new, but it has been spotlighted recently as a number of school districts across America have adopted it as part of their curriculum in response to calls for enhancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. There is significant controversy, however, about whether the 1619 Project has the accuracy and academic rigor to be used as actual curriculum in the classroom. It has been suggested that we should use the 1619 Project as part of the curriculum in the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD).

The 1619 Project started in 2019 as an ongoing initiative of the New York Times Magazine. It is led by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a NYT reporter. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2020 for her work on the 1619 Project. According to Hannah-Jones in an August 2019 New York Times article, the 1619 Project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of [the United States’] national narrative.”

The name of the 1619 Project refers to the first arrival of African slaves in Virginia at Port Comfort in 1619 and that this represents the actual founding year of our country (not 1776). This is historically misleading, because the first African slaves brought to American landed in 1526 in what is now South Carolina.

Most of the controversy surrounding the 1619 project is regarding this type of historical inaccuracy, not regarding the purpose of the project. Most people agree that history should be as accurate as possible. Most believe that we should be honest and truthful about the history of slavery in America and the steps that were taken to rectify this horrible practice, including the Civil War, the 13th (1865), 14th (1868), and 15th (1870) Amendments to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act. It should be noted that since constitutional amendments essentially require a 75% majority to ratify, it is impressive there was overwhelming support to try to correct the lingering injustices associated with slavery.

The 1619 Project has been criticized by historians, and even New York Times fact-checkers, for its many inaccuracies. However, as a general rule, the editor of the project has been unwilling to make the suggested corrections. For some school districts, though, the social justice benefits outweigh the historical inaccuracies and political bias. Reaction from journalists has been mixed, with the highest praise from left-leaning writers. Conservative journalists, who tend to look upon the Founders in a more positive light, find the inaccuracies more disturbing. Rich Lowry of National Review wrote that the project “left out unwelcome facts about slavery, smeared the revolution, distorted the Constitution and misrepresented the founding era and Lincoln.”

The 1619 Project has even touched us here in CVUSD. There is a school board election campaign underway, with four candidates competing for two seats. Lauren Gill is challenging incumbent Sandee Everett in Area 5 (Newbury Park). Patti Jones and Karen Sylvester are competing for the open seat in Area 1 (Westlake). Both Patti Jones and Karen Sylvester declined to comment on this issue.

Lauren Gill has expressed support for bringing the 1619 Project into CVUSD as curriculum. On September 18, 2019, for example, Gill tweeted, “What say we @ConejoValleyUSD? Shall we join Chicago and teach the #1619Project in our high schools?”

Trustee Sandee Everett expressed skepticism about using the 1619 Project as curriculum. “Although I support many of the purposes of the 1619 Project, namely bringing more attention to the history of slavery and racial injustice, I would prefer that we use materials that are more accurate and less political,” stated Trustee Everett. “We should always be honest about the Founders’ flaws, but that does not mean that students should not study and admire what the Founders accomplished despite those flaws.”

Curriculum is ultimately a local matter that is under the control of the school board, as long as state standards are met. For a controversial topic like this, it is important that parents and community members make their wishes, whether for or against, known to the school board members.

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